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Has ACT got an act?

Has ACT got an act?

Monday 29 Mar 2004

Richard Prebble - Speeches

Israeli/ New Zealand Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday 29 March, 12 PM. Sun Alliance Building Shortland Street

The topic you have given me, Has ACT got an act? is a good question.

With Don Brash having taken ACT's issue, one law for all, National recording 49% in the latest polls and ACT recording just 2%, it's a legitimate question.

The third party voting in the latest polls is the lowest for third parties - not just since MMP - but for over 20 years. It would appear the electorate is moving back to first past the post.

The ACT party, like other political parties, conducts its own polls. Our polling is Rolls Royce. Unlike the public polls, we measure how strongly the voters hold opinions and we find out why they hold those opinions.

The shift in parties' support recorded by the polls this year is the most dramatic since polling began. ACT's polling not only confirms that the shifts are real, and bad news for Labour, but also that the voters have made up their minds on the race issue. Over 70% of the electorate think Don Brash is right, that race relations is an important issue and it's an issue that will influence their vote in the next election, whenever it is held. There will be a change of government and Don Brash will be New Zealand's next Prime Minister.

So where does that leave the third parties?

The history of third parties is that their vote rises whenever one of the major parties is not performing. The third party vote falls when the electorate perceives there is a real choice between the two major parties.

There has been no real choice between the Treaty policies of National and Labour. Successive governments have had identical policies in the area of race preference.

It is now clear the electorate think that on this is an important issue there is a difference between the two major parties and is looking forward to being able to tell politicians what they think about their policies on race.

One can predict an increase in the percentage of the vote the two major parties will receive and a corresponding decline in the percentage of votes received by the third parties.

If one looks at the latest TV One /Colmar Brunton poll, which has National at 49% and Labour on 38, National's dramatic rise is almost entirely at the expense of the third party vote. Labour received just over 41% of the vote last election and therefore has only suffered a 3% swing. National received just 22% of the vote last election and is getting its vote almost entirely from third parties.

So what is the prognosis for the third parties? Not good.

Let me go through the parties in reverse order of their prospects.

The United party is a busted fish. United gained its support last election by collapsing the Christian vote that has been tracking around 4% in every election. Those voters do not support the anti-family godless Labour Party and so were stunned by Peter Dunne's decision to support Labour. The Ohariu-Belmont seat is a centre-right seat and incorporates suburbs like Khandallah. In 20 years he has done nothing and a strong centre-right candidate, who may be ACT's Heather Roy, can win that seat.

The Greens are also in mortal danger. They do not have the safety net of the seat. The Greens are a Chicken Little party who survive by convincing us the sky is about to fall. The GE moratorium has been lifted and the sky is still blue. All the political parties have responsible environment policies and so everyone has taken their territory. So the Greens have responded by becoming watermelons: green on the outside and red on the inside. The Greens now hold extreme left positions. As Helen Clark herself has said the Greens are so extreme they are not a viable coalition partner.

The Greens have other problems. Their party organisation is a shambles. The average voter is a teenager and teenagers are the least likely to vote. You have to bet against the Greens surviving.

New Zealand First. New Zealand First has an erratic voting history. Two elections ago, if just 18 voters in Tauranga had changed their minds, that party would have been wiped out. Mr Peters has successfully ridden two horses, both galloping in opposite directions. The 60-plus blue rinse voters who were disaffected with National and a significant Maori vote. Half of New Zealand First's MPs are Maori. Don Brash has literally galloped off with Winston Peters' elderly voters. Don Brash's assurances on superannuation are seeing National win their natural constituency. National has the dubious distinction of being the only Conservative party in the world who do not win a majority of the over-65 vote. The latest polls show this is being corrected.

Winston Peters has, in Parliament, lined up with Labour to attack National. He described Don brash as having the views of a colonial tea-planter. Peters has also come out in favour of Helen Clark's proposed Royal Commission on the Treaty. New Zealand First is now a Maori party.

While one cannot rule out further flip-flops from the erratic Mr Peters it does appear that he is now lined up with the left. It is my view that New Zealand First faces extinction in the next election and I would not be at all surprised if the people of Tauranga finally decide to retire Mr Peters.

I have not mentioned the Jim Anderton party or the Alliance and this is because the voters have forgotten to. That leaves ACT.

While in no way denying that Don Brash represents the biggest threat to ACT in our history, we are of the view that the present polls represent our best opportunity ever.

ACT's focus groups show our voters are intending to vote for Don Brash. That is they do not say they are voting National - they say they are voting for Don Brash. Our voters also know that the issues Don Brash is raising are issues that ACT has been campaigning on since its inception. Our supporters feel that their vote for ACT has been justified.

I'm not sure if you know how focus groups work. What happens is that a group of voters, who have been selected in this case because they are centre-right voters, are asked to come and discuss issues with a facilitator. In political focus groups the facilitator normally starts by asking people how they intend to vote, which gives an indication of where people's feelings are regarding polling. What follows then is a discussion of the issues. This in some way parallels what would happen during the election campaign. After the discussion the facilitator goes round the room and asks people again how they are going to vote, reminding them that under MMP they have two votes. In our focus groups, at the beginning virtually 100% say they are voting for Don Brash, and at the end, a majority of voters say that they will give one of their two votes to ACT.

It's very interesting to see why.

The voters say, "ACT has the answers to the issues that Don Brash raises. ACT has the quality team capable of implementing these policies. ACT will be the insurers against a National party winning office and just going on carrying out Labour's policies. Don Brash is different but has the National party changed?"

Our image with the electorate has never been better. We are seen as a forward thinking party, with practical positive solutions, the quality Members of Parliament who have the courage to raise the tough issues. ACT keeps them all honest. These are very good images.

So this is how ACT is going to campaign. We are going to campaign by saying that although Don Brash has raised the issues, it is the ACT party that has the answers. We also have the answers to hard issues that both the old parties would rather not raise.

It is simply nonsense to claim that superannuation is a problem that the New Zealand electorate can ignore until 2020. In 2020 the sustainability of superannuation will be a crisis, one the country should have acted on years ago. The answer is savings-based super.

The electorate knows that in health there are unsolvable problems. I'm not willing to claim that ACT has all the answers in health, but I do know that we do have some fresh ideas that would make life better. We need to change incentives so that people are not discriminated against for taking out private health insurance.

Our own polling shows that upwards of 70% of the electorate prefer ACT's views on crime to the policies of any other party. Getting tough on crime is an issue that ACT believes in fiercely because it's part of our basic philosophy. We believe in personal responsibility and holding criminals accountable for their actions. Labour, which believes that crime is societies' fault, of course can't do that.

Effective policing, which we call Zero Tolerance For Crime, does work. Incarceration also works in that it's hard to commit a crime when you are in jail.

Dramatic reductions in crime are possible. For those thousands of New Zealanders who are literally prisoners in their own homes reduction in crime will lift the quality of life dramatically. It's an issue we own.

Don Brash has hinted that National will announce real welfare reform. I'm not so sure.

Just as National has blurred its views on tax, I think that National strategists want to fight the next election on the Treaty and don't want to be diverted onto any other issues.

Meanwhile ACT is the party that continues to raise the real issues. We will campaign on the need for real welfare reform. It is just absurd that we have a quarter of a million able-bodied working age adults on benefits.

But the issue that ACT does own is that we remain the low tax party.

It may be good politics to say that those in higher tax brackets must wait but it's not good economics. As Don Brash himself observed, before he was an MP, the income tax system in New Zealand already favours the low paid. The example he cited is a good one. It is simply unfair that a couple with children on $100,000 a year pays a hundred times more income tax than a couple on $25,000 a year who qualify for family support.

Both of the two old parties want New Zealand to have a growth rate that will enable us to catch up with Australia. There is no way New Zealand will do this while we continue to have a company tax rate higher than Australia. Tax is the cost we pay for working. Tax is the penalty we pay for investing. If we want more investment, more jobs and more growth it follows that we need to reduce the tax penalty. ACT is the only party that will be campaigning for this next election.

Our polling shows that centre-right voters actually prefer what ACT says about tax, welfare reform, crime, the policies of parent choice to enable middle-income families to send their children to a school of their choice.

And finally, as our critics acknowledge, ACT is the best campaigning party. Every election we have dramatically increased our vote as the electorate has seen our policies and practical solutions.

So it is my view that the next election will see Don Brash as Prime Minister. We will see the sweeping out of Parliament of most of the third parties. And I believe we will see the ACT party with increased representation moving from being a party of influence and being a party that implements policies. I can't wait.


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